© Gaye Wilson, 2009

questionGetting everything done isn’t easy when life gets in the way. You have shopping to do, paid work to do, the kids to take to sport, an essay due at university, the washing, the cooking, the ironing, catching the train … the list just goes on and on.

So how do you cope? How do you get everything done properly and on time?

By asking yourself one simple question:

What is the best use of my time right now?

I call it the BUT question.

This one question will guide you to victory. You can apply it to everything:

  • Whether to do this task or that one
  • Whether to make this choice or that one
  • Whether to eat, socialise, work, relax, exercise, sleep, clean up, see the doctor, outsource … you name it.

I have a client at the moment who is in the last stages of writing his PhD thesis. He hired me to get the formatting of the document right. This was a good move, because it freed him up to concentrate on the writing.

But he’s not writing. Although he has outsourced part of the job (the formatting), he’s still obsessing about the part he outsourced (yes – the formatting). He seems to be spending more time on how the final product is going to look than he is on the content of the final product. That’s fine, and every PhD candidate needs to obsess about both the content and the presentation.

But what this person is doing is the equivalent of having a dog and barking too.

He’s already outsourced the formatting. So why is he obsessing about whether the document should be double spaced or not? That’s my job. He hired me to format the document so that it looks outstanding and gives a professional, jaw-dropping first impression to the examiners. I’ve already given him my best professional advice, but he’s still vacillating.

He needs to ask himself what is the best use of his time: either cancel his contract with me to do part of the job; or allow me to do the job he hired me for, and get on with the actual meat of the project himself.

That’s what I mean when I say, what is the best use of your time right now? What is the one thing you can do that will have a positive impact on your project or your goal or your life right now?

Not next week.

Not tomorrow.

Not after lunch.

NOW.

If you get into the habit of asking yourself that question throughout your day, you will become much more productive, efficient and accomplished than you are now.

Try it. You’ll be surprised at the results.

© Gaye Wilson 2009

Do you spend hours every day watching television?

Are you a fan of reality shows like The Biggest Loser or Hell’s Kitchen or The Great Race?

Do you wish you could be one of the contestants: lose weight, become a chef, travel the world following clues?

If so, you’re wasting time watching other people live their dreams. What about your own dreams? Are you living yours?

Take a look at how you spend your time. A good way to do this is to write down in 15 minute increments everything you do for a day. If you can do it for a week, that would be even better, as it would give you a really good idea of where your time is going.

Once you’ve done your time log, have a look at it. Notice the times when you are not actively doing something – watching television, watching sport, sleeping during the day, eating between meals. What are the activities that are not contributing to the achievement of your dreams? What activities are wasting your valuable time?

I’m not talking about the essential activities of daily life: sleeping, eating, exercise, paid work (you need to sleep, eat and exercise in order to function, and paid work hopefully gives you the financial means to live), quality family and social time. I’m talking about the activities that make you a couch potato, or a watcher – a gunna, not a doer.

Once you’ve analysed your time log, and know what times of day you slacken off, and what you do in those slack times, think about what you could be doing instead: writing a book? getting fit? learning a new language? reading a motivational or business book? Playing with your children? Helping a charitable organisation?

Of course, the biggest thing you should be looking at is: what do you want to do? What are your dreams? Or, more importantly, what are your goals?

A goal is a dream with a deadline.

Dreams are all very well and good. Dreams give you hope. But dreams will remain dreams unless you do something to achieve them. Once you start working towards your dreams, they become goals.

So what is your dream? Are you watching other people live their dreams, instead of working towards yours?

© Gaye Wilson 2009
I’ve just discovered a really wonderful online tool if you’re a writer who gets easily distracted. I found it through Ankesh Kothari’s blog: http://www.blogclout.com/blog/cool-tool-writing-without-distraction/ .

The tool is called Writer. When you enter the site, you are faced with a black page with green writing. You simply start to type, and you will see your words appear on the screen, just as if you were in a word processing document.

Ankesh’s suggestion of using it as your home page is an interesting one. If you do that, he suggests that you will then get the impetus to actually write something. He might be right. When I went there, it was impossible not to try it out.

This page allows you to start and save as many documents as you like. It will also print your writing, or send it to you by email. It was actually quite fun to play around with it.

It has a pdf button, which didn’t work when I tried it. It also has a Download button (I didn’t try that one), and a Send button, where you have a choice of sending it as an email, or to a blog or other places.

How can the use of this online tool help you?

  • If you use it as your home page, you will always get the reminder to write.
  • You can use it to jot down notes while you’re online, without having to open your text editor.
  • You can make to do lists, and email them to yourself.
  • You can write a book, or an article, or notes to yourself.
  • You can copy and paste interesting URLs.

You can change some options, such as the colour of the writing, the font type, and the spacing. You can create an account, although you don’t have to. You can delete your writing. You can even get a word count. 

It also seems to remember you when you close the page and come back in again.

Use is free, but there is a donation button at the bottom of the screen. I think it would be well worth a donation if you find it useful. 

As with all online tools, there may be privacy issues. Read the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy to decide whether it is for you.

As a fun way of getting yourself writing, I think this is a good one. If you are having trouble getting to writing, it might be worth checking it out. Here it is again:

 Writer at http://writer.bighugelabs.com/.

 

© Gaye Wilson 2008
My neighbour died last week. It was totally unexpected. The family, obviously, is shattered.

So am I.

I discovered some interesting behaviour on my part the day I heard about his death. I went shopping – a normal, weekly grocery shop. But I found myself buying more – stuff – than usual. It was as if, the more stuff I brought home, the more it affirmed that I was still alive.

I bought a couple of books that would normally be out of my price range – but I might be dead tomorrow, and if I buy them now perhaps I’ll get the chance to read them before I go. I bought a bunch of magazines that I would normally only leaf through in the store. I bought some brightly coloured wool, with no particular pattern in mind, but I bought it because it was there, and bringing it home showed that I’m still here. It was as if the more stuff I have, the less chance I have of not being here to deal with it tomorrow.

That’s a strange reaction, and it surprised me.

What also surprised me was the depth of emotion I’m feeling. I didn’t know the neighbour well, but he was a reassuring presence every day as he drove past to or from work, and he had done some work on our property for us. Now he’s gone. The news shocked me to my core, and brought back memories of my father’s death two years ago. It’s as if the neighbour’s death was the catalyst for me to grieve all over again for my father.

But the biggest reaction I had was “What a waste”. Every time someone or something dies, the world is different. The person’s knowledge is lost, not to mention income, influence, skills and a range of other things. How many people die each day, not having fulfilled their potential? (I’m not saying my neighbour was one of them.)

Death is the ultimate wake-up call. Over this past week, I’ve also been thinking about what I’m doing with my life. Am I filling each day with worthwhile actions? Am I happy? Do I make other people happy? Am I healthy? Am I doing everything I can to stay healthy so I can be on this planet for as long as possible? Am I achieving my goals? Am I passing on my knowledge?

Don’t let your knowledge die with you. Find ways to teach others what you have learnt.

Don’t let your song die with you. Share yourself and your talents with the world.

Become who you really want to be.

Do what you really want to do.

Coaches often suggest to clients that they think about their funeral. Who will be there? What will be said about you? What will be on your tombstone? What do you want your legacy to be? Once you know that, you can do whatever is needed to make it happen.

Start now. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

Work out what you want, how to get it, and go for it. Get help.

Don’t wait until you hear of someone’s death before you start to live. You may not get another chance.

R.I.P. Bernie.

© Gaye Wilson 2008
A system? Not a system! I can’t use systems!

Yes, you can. Systems are invaluable for getting stuff done. They are especially important when you are working to a deadline. They help you plan the project, they tell you what still needs to be done, and they tell you what to do next.

For instance, for the editing project I’ve been talking about in this series (I finished the project, by the way, on time, and the client was ecstatic with my work), my system was:

  • Print out all emails pertaining to the project
  • Start a file for everything related to the project
  • Keep track (see this post)
  • Use checklists
  • File all the stuff when the project is done so that I can refer to it again if necessary (for instance, if the client wants changes or disputes what we’ve agreed, or if I have a similar project in the future). 

Without the system, I don’t know where I’m up to, and I don’t know what is still to be done. Having everything in hard copy in the one place I find is much better than having to boot up my computer to find stuff.

The beauty of this is that, once you’ve figured out a system to get a particular task done, you can use that system again and again for similar tasks. Tweak the system as you go, so that it is the best system for you.

Studies have shown that people who use systems get more done.

So what systems can you come up with?

© Gaye Wilson 2008
I’m overwhelmed. I have so many projects to do, and so little health and available minutes to do them in. And of course, everything not only piles up and up and up, but also takes far more time than I think it should. I started this blog with enthusiasm, thinking that January would be a good month to really get into the swing of blogging regularly, and look – the last time I blogged was January 24!

It’s all very discouraging.

I keep telling myself what I tell my coaching clients:

  • Take it one step at a time
  • Focus on one thing at a time
  • Do the best you can in this moment
  • Don’t let the guilt trip you up
  • Plan your schedule
  • Schedule your plan

But do I pay attention to myself? Sometimes.

So in the midst of all this angst it was really refreshing to read this very helpful blog post from FreelanceSwitch. When I read it this morning, I had an immediate response of relief. It’s okay. Just do what you can. Really take it one step at a time, and it will all eventually come together.

Breathe.

© Gaye Wilson 2008
When you are working hard on a job, especially one as physically and mentally challenging as editing or proofreading (amongst others), it really helps to take regular, refreshing breaks. I have found on this particular editing job that I stopped seeing errors after about an hour of intense concentration. Getting up, taking a walk, drinking a glass of water and maybe playing with the dog all helped when I got back to work. I would pick up the job, re-read the last paragraph I was working on, and immediately see the problem that had been eluding me.

This tip is applicable to almost everything you do. If you are a workaholic who doesn’t take breaks, your health will suffer. If you don’t take annual holidays, your health and relationships will suffer. If you have multiple tasks to do, changing to another one when you are weary of the first one is a good way to refresh yourself, and when you come back to the original one, you’ll be able to cope with it a bit better.

 

© Gaye Wilson 2008
After reading a post about tracking jobs on David Seah’s productivity blog, I thought about how I schedule the actions I need to take. I’ve been thinking about the best ways to do things for some time, hence this blog, and am experimenting with different strategies.

The one I’ve come up with this week is the Corkboard Scheduler.

I had a corkboard sitting idle that I’d bought for something else. I had a bunch of square paper (9x9cm or 3.5×3.5 inches). I had pins. I had index cards. I put them all together, and came up with this:

Corkboard Scheduler

Across the top are six index cards. Each one has a label. The first one is a different colour than the rest, and it represents the jobs I want to work on This Week. The remaining index cards are categories of actions in my life. I was limited to only five categories by the size of the corkboard.

The idea was this: use one piece of paper (I’m going to call them note squares – they are about the size of a Post It note) per action. Write the name of the job/action on a note square. Pin the note square under the appropriate index card category. When I plan to work on the action on a particular note square, I unpin it from the category column, and pin it in the This Week column.

This looked good.

I found that in some cases I also wrote the date the action was due at the bottom of the note square. This gave me a deadline, and allowed me to see at a glance which actions needed to be put in the This Week column. I could also write the date the note square was written, so that I can track how long it’s been on the Scheduler. If it has been on the board for months, maybe the action does not need to be taken.

The advantage of this Corkboard Scheduler for the visual thinker is the ability to see at a glance what needs to be done, and in some cases, when. The note squares under each category tell me what projects are on my plate, the ones in the This Week column give me a visual nudge that I need to work those tasks into my time for this week.

The size of the corkboard I’m using limits the number of categories I can use, and the number of actions I can pin under each category. I can only use five categories and five actions in each category. This is fine, because that means that only the most important actions appear on the board. If I have too many, I won’t be able to focus on achieving each individual victory.

If, however, I find that I have more items that need to be recorded on the Corkboard Scheduler, I can use the other side for future projects.

I’m sure this is not a new idea, but I haven’t used it before, and I’m playing around with it to see how useful it is for me.

How have you used something like this?

 

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